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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Revelation 7

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-17

SPECIAL DOCTRINO-ETHICAL AND HOMILETICAL NOTES (ADDENDUM)

Section Sixth

Ideal heavenly World-picture of the Seven Penitential Trumpets. (Ch. 7)

General.—The Invisible Church here and beyond: here, the sealed—militant conquerors; beyond, blessed conquerors. The Sealing, and its doctrinal import (δοκιμή characterized by James as δικαιοῦν; [and on Romans 5],—The Sealing has reference not solely to the last time, but, through the whole succession of the New Testament time (which Isaiah, indeed, in a general sense denominated the last time), to the assurance of saints in face of the temptations of this world. That Isaiah, the Sealing in Revelation 7 relates to the Trumpets in Revelation 8. That which the four Angels are stationed on the four corners of the earth to accomplish—namely, to loose the four winds of the earth, the spirit of the world in all its ground-forms, upon the earth and the sea, to injure them: upon the theocratic Divine institution, or the Church, and upon national life, to purge them through great temptations—this, we repeat, is fulfilled in the judgments of the Trumpets. In reference, however, to these temptations, which shake and imperil the visible Church, the invisible Church is represented as assured—assured, partly through the sealing effected here and partly through the entry of the blessed into the Church Triumphant beyond. When it is declared that the Angels may not loose the winds of temptation until the sealing is consummated, in the priority of the time of the sealing the priority of strength in the sealed is expressed. They are established through the gift of the grace of steadfastness. In chap 14 we learn that their approval was conditioned by uprightness, purity, and the avoidance of false-hood, but we must first know that their sealing is entirely a work of grace.—On the import of the four winds from the four corners of the earth, the earth itself, the sea, the trees, the rising of the sun, the injuring, the number144,000, see the Exeg. Notes.

We have already demonstrated that the literal interpretation of the twelve Tribes of Israel as having reference to the Jewish nation in the last time, is utterly untenable. The symbolic designation of the chosen servants of God by the name of the spiritual Israel, Isaiah, however, sufficient guaranty for the fact that the Apostle has in view the general hope of a restoration of Israel at the same time that he contemplates a more extended class of elect persons. For as the symbolic name of Israel does not exclude believers from the Gentiles, neither does it shut out believing Jews, or the hope that Israel, as a people, will yet exercise faith in their long neglected Messiah. The well-known Judaistic apprehension of the Sealing—discussed by us in the Exegetical Division—bears upon it not only the exegetical stain of gross literalness, but also the blot of dogmatical error, in maintaining that in the end of the times Israel could again possess national prerogatives in the Kingdom of God, when it was precisely on account of its pretensions to such prerogatives in the midst of the ages that the nation incurred rejection.

Furthermore, the architectonics and symmetry of the table of the sealed plead for its symbolical character. The special duodecenary, running through the general duodecenary and multiplied invariably by the æonic number1000, is the ever recurring expression of sacred fullness, sacred completeness. Again, the free arrangement and modification of the list of the twelve Tribes (see Exeg. Notes) are in favor of this symbolical character; and it is no less supported by the perfect coördination of individual Tribes in respect of the number selected from each. We must here repeat the statement previously made elsewhere, namely, that the selection does not exclude further circles of blessed ones. The same literal exegesis which, on the one hand, so exceptionally favors Judaism, would, on the other hand, inflict most serious detriment upon it if it were proposed to apprehend the text as declaring that many Jews should, in the last times, become believers, but that their number, however, should not exceed144,000. The sealed are the true stand-holders of the living Church throughout the ages of the Church, the pillars, against which many who are weak lean for support.

This truth is immediately expressed by the second part of the vision, the vision of the innumerable throng of blessed ones. These are characterized by the following items: 1. They form a countless throng; in antithesis to doctrinal particularism2. They are from all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues; in antithesis to exegetical particularism, which stamps the Apocalypse with a Judaistic tendency3. They are perfected: they stand before the Throne of God and the Lamb, clothed in white robes—the adornment of holiness—and palms—as tokens of victory, peace and festival—in their hands; in antithesis to hierarchic particularism, which treats of an immediate entry into blessedness in conformity with mediæval ideas (confining the privilege to martyrs, monks, priests, ascetics who have built up a holiness of works, and calendar saints). 4. Their cry: The salvation is with our God, etc.;—thoroughly evangelic; it is even a protest against all righteousness of works and doctrine. With our God and the Lamb: in antithesis both to pietistic-exclusive and deistic-exclusive forms of belief5. The Amen and the song of praise of the whole angel or spirit world.

The great Heaven-picture of the perfected is accompanied by heavenly instructions concerning the origin of the blessed, their endless train, their character and destiny. Even the faith of a John failed to grasp the origin of these innumerable throngs of blessed ones and the height at which they had arrived. But one of the Elders, to whom the depths of the history of the Kingdom are no secret, vouchsafes him an explanation: He explains (1) whence they have come—viz. out of great tribulation. All come from unknown depths of suffering, of conflict—not simply from visible martyr-sufferings (see Romans 6). They have all washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. With the depth of their experience of suffering, corresponds the depth of their experience of salvation: they all recognize and confess the world-reconciling Atonement. But, again, with these depths, corresponds the height of their goal. Thus we have (2) an explanation as to whither they have arrived—viz. before the Throne of God, to a blessed priestly service, after the type of life in the Temple; to the perfect satisfaction of every longing, and to freedom from all heat, after the image of a life of business, toil and wandering ( Psalm 23); to the full and comfortable discovery of the joyful harvest of the seed of tears, yea, to the discovery of the heavenly pearl to which every tear has turned (see Exeg. Notes).

Special.—[ Revelation 7:1] Various forms of the spirit of the world and its temptations.—Temptations as Divine dispensations.—Limited as to time, place and degree.—Their design.—[ Revelation 7:2-3] Different moments in the development of salvation—especially sealing.—The awakened may fall; but it is the distinction of the sealed that they have made good their faith in the battle of life, particularly in moments of great sacrifice.—Men in Christ.—[ Revelation 7:4-8] The heroes of Israel, the heroes of David, as types of God’s heroes.—Chosen stones, flowers, animals, men, Christians.—The Twelve Tribes as types of the charisms.—Consecration of a natural gift to a gracious gift, through the gift of the Spirit.—Both gifts are gifts of grace in the broader sense of the term—the first as a gift of unmerited creative favor, the second as a gift of unmerited redemptive salvation.—The Twelve Tribes types of the fullness of the charisms in the Kingdom of God.—The choice of them, a type of the personally and historically chosen.—The number1,000 as a figure of the continual presence of Christ in His Church through the whole æon.—Comparison of particular characteristic Tribes: Judah and Joseph; Simeon and Levi; Joseph and Benjamin.—[ Revelation 7:9.] The visible and the invisible Church.—The two spheres of the invisible Church, in this world and in the Beyond.—In the visible Church, the visible appearance of the Church may be greatly obscured. If the visible Church becomes invisible as the Church, the invisible Church emerges into visibility. This remark applies to every time, but is particularly true of the last time.—The heavenly Festival of Palms.—[ Revelation 7:10] The heavenly confession of the blessed.—Their song.—[Vers11, 12.] The song of praise of all spirits concerning the consummation of the blessed.—Doxologies of men and angels.—[ Revelation 7:13.] The catechism of John which the Elder institutes, compared with the catechism of Peter ( John 21).—[ Revelation 7:14] Humility of the great Apostle as manifested in his answer to the question of the Elder.—The great, eternal, pilgrim and festal procession of blessed souls from earth to the heavenly Home.—[ Revelation 7:15] The Throne.—Service in the Temple.—The glory of God over them.—Analogous passages: Isaiah 25:4 sqq.; Isaiah 49:10; Psalm 23, 91, 126; Isaiah 66:13.

Starke: God has numbered His elect, but their number is known to Him alone. If He has counted the hairs of the faithful, He has surely counted their persons.—The same number in each Tribe, when there were some Tribes that were more numerous than others, shows that God bears the same gracious will to all believers, of whatsoever race or people they be. (The text, however, has reference to sealed persons, and the numbers are symbolical.)

Revelation 7:13. The best and fittest mode of instruction—especially for those who are young and simple—is by question and answer, Genesis 3:9; Luke 2:46-47 (!).

A. H. W. Brandt, Anleitung zum Lesen der Offenb. Joh. (see p73): The sealed. John does not see them even in spirit; much less are they to be seen with the bodily eye in their substantiality on earth. Nevertheless they are a people of God on earth, having His Spirit, and numbered by Him, in the sense of Matthew 10:30. They are described, in prophetic wise, by their Old Testament type, whose names and Tribes are presented not in the single12, but by 12 x12, and multiplied by thousands. It is the true Israel, baptized with the Spirit and consisting of all (?) the servants of God who are born of the Spirit.

Revelation 7:9-12. And behold! A great multitude. This excites the astonishment of the Seer, which was not the case with the preceding occurrence; Hebrews, indeed, did not see the sealed, but this multitude visibly appears in Heaven. (A highly significant contrast. Concerning the sealed on earth he learns only the tribal characters and numbers by an auricular wonder; the blessed, on the other hand, are presented to his contemplation in personal distinctness by an ocular wonder.)

[From M. Henry: Revelation 7:3. God has particular care and concern for His own servants in times of temptation and corruption, and He has a way to secure them from the common infection: He first establishes them, and then He tries them; He has the timing of their trials in His own hand.

Revelation 7:9. Before the throne, and before the Lamb. In acts of religious worship we come nigh to God, and are to conceive ourselves as in His special presence; and we must come to God by Christ; the throne of God would be inaccessible to sinners, were it not for a Mediator.

Revelation 7:13-17. Here we have a description of the honor and happiness of those who have faithfully served the Lord Jesus Christ, and suffered for Him. Note, 1. The low and desolate state they had formerly been in. The way to heaven lies through many tribulations; but tribulation, how great soever, shall not separate us from the love of God. 2. The means by which they had been prepared for the great honor and happiness they now enjoyed; they had washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. It is not the blood of the martyrs themselves, but the blood of the Lamb, that can wash away sin, and make the soul pure and clean in the sight of God3. The blessedness to which they are now advanced, being thus prepared for it. They are happy, (1) In their station, for they are before the throne of God night and day, and He dwells among them; they are in that presence where there is fullness of joy. (2) In their employment, for they serve God continually, without weakness, drowsiness, or weariness; heaven is a state of service, though not of suffering; of rest, but not of sloth; it is a praising, delightful rest. (3) In their freedom from all the inconveniences of this present life; a. From all want, and sense of want; They hunger and thirst no more. b. From all sickness and pain; they shall never be scorched by the heat of the sun anymore. 4. In the love and conduct of the Lord Jesus; He shall feed them, He shall lead them to living fountains of waters. (5) In being delivered from all sorrow, or occasion of it; God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.]

Section Seventh

The Seven Penitential Trumpets. Earth-picture. (Chaps. Revelation 8:1 to Revelation 9:21)

General.—Since there is an increase of disagreement in the different expositions of this eighth chapter, and, by consequence, an augmented insecurity attaching to any exposition of it hitherto offered, there is an increased demand for caution in the theoretic and practical application of it.

Many, for instance, consider Revelation 7 as an episode, and affirm an immediate connection of Revelation 8 with Revelation 6. We, on the contrary, regard Revelation 7 as the heavenly phase of the Earth-picture which follows it in the vision of the Trumpets. Or, in other words, the Seven Trumpets are a loosing of the four winds from the four corners of the earth, in order to the injury of the Church and national life (earth and sea). In accordance with this view, we have to do altogether with darkenings of the visible Church, with spiritual occurrences presented under cosmical forms. These darkenings are, agreeably to the conditions of the Church, judgments; for individual Christians, they are temptations [or testings]; as dispensations of the Lord, they are admonitions and arousing summonses to repentance and to combat—and, hence, Trumpets.

The silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour denotes that heavenly bracing and arming for which the whole great hour of temptation [ Revelation 3:10] gives occasion.

Even the Seven Angels with the Trumpets must restrain themselves and wait for the right moment, like the Four Angels in the preceding chapter. Their waiting has a common purpose with that of the Four Angels. The latter waited for the accomplishment of the Divine work of sealing; the former wait for the consummation of the human prayers of the saints, which correspond with the work of sealing. Thus the spirit of prayer must constitute the Church’s defence against the coming temptations. The prayers which ascend from earth must, however, be completed in Heaven. Their purification from earthly passion—e. g., of confessionalism or nationalism—is first represented in the form of a supplementing with incense, which an Angel with a golden censer, in which much incense is given him for the heavenly altar of incense, adds to the prayers of the saints. In accordance with Scripture, this figure can be understood solely of the heavenly intercession of the Spirit of Christ. Next the other function of the Angel is represented—the emptying of the censer, previously filled with fire from the altar, upon the earth. This is indicative, without doubt, of the missions of the high-priestly Spirit of Christ from Heaven, the effects of which missions are figuratively represented in voices, thunders, lightnings, and earthquake (see the Exeg. Notes). The two-fold continuance of Christ’s work, in His eternal Spirit, consists in a direction towards God in intercession, and a direction towards the Church on earth in the outpourings of His Spirit, accompanied by the glowing coals of His high-priestly temper of love and sacrifice.

The First Four Trumpets (see Exeg. Notes). [ Revelation 8:7] The first darkening of the Church owes its origin to fanaticism; this appears as a judgment upon the lack of inward devotion and sincerity.—[ Revelation 8:8-9.] The second great temptation [or trial] is the spread of fanaticism, in which a great mountain, a theocratic, ecclesiastico-political institution, begins to burn and plunges into the sea—Christian national life.—[ Revelation 8:10-11] This calls forth the reactions of embitterment—deviations [or dissents], apostasies, indicated by the burning star which falls upon the rivers and fountains.—[ Revelation 8:12] A result of these three destructive and corruptive agencies, which, with all their contrasts, work together, is the great spiritual diminution of the sunlight of Revelation, the moonlight of natural revelation (which, amid all the advances of natural science, may still become obscured), and the light which proceeds from spiritual stars in the Church.

The Last Three Trumpets. These are distinguished from the first four Trumpets and raised above them, primarily in that they are heralded by an Eagle, which flies through the midst of Heaven and proclaims their approach, and secondly by the Eagle’s designation of them as three woes upon those who dwell on the earth. We remark here, by way of addition, that the scope of the first woe is accurately defined as the sphere of the Fifth Trumpet ( Revelation 9:1-11). No less definite is the determination of the sphere of the second woe as the sphere of the Sixth Trumpet ( Revelation 9:1-21). As chs 10 and Revelation 11:1-14 relate to the seven sealed Thunders, and in a sense form a real episode between the Trumpets, it might be as well to regard the second woe under a formal aspect, as closed with Revelation 9:21, as to conceive of it as continued through Revelation 10,—in accordance with the material point of view to which we adhered on p226, to the adoption of which we were particularly influenced by Revelation 10:4. The lack of precision in the construction of this portion of the Apocalypse is owing to the fact that the Apocalyptist was in the main desirous of depicting, under the cycle of the Seven Thunders, only the activity of the Two Witnesses, but found occasion to communicate the issue of their history as well.

From the material point of view, the incipient apostasy, depicted Revelation 11:1-14, certainly forms a supplement to the judgment of the Sixth Trumpet.

The Eagle’s cries of Woe upon the dwellers on the earth, are expressive of the fact that the Spirit of prophecy now, in lofty majesty, announces three universal temptations [trials] which are to come upon all men and which shall be so mighty as to make it manifest from the outset that the majority will fall when exposed to them, whilst the minority, constituted by the sealed, will have to undergo the sorest afflictions and persecutions.

In respect of the Fifth and Sixth Trumpets, we refer to the Exegetical Notes. Although, for our own part, we regard our view as thoroughly grounded (especially by the circumstances that the locusts of the Fifth Trumpet so torment men as to plunge them in despair, without killing them, and that the fiery horses of the Sixth Trumpet kill men—which must, doubtless, be understood as significant of a spiritual killing), it is requisite that the security of the foundation of this exegesis should be additionally manifested before any superstructure is erected upon it. The founding of homiletical and practical applications upon the traditional Church-historical exposition, e. g., upon the hypothesis that the locusts are Mohammedans and Apollyon the caliphs, and that the horses of the Sixth Trumpet are the second deluge of Mohammedans—the appearance of the Turks (Sander; according to Von Meyer, the locusts denote the mediæval priesthood, the horses being Oriental barbarians in general)—has, like kindred expositions, not such evidence in its favor as evangelical preaching and instruction demand.

Especially noteworthy, in our eyes, is the fundamental thought that the destructive agencies depicted in the Seven Trumpets, are set forth in plastic figures of disturbed nature—in part, of the most horrible unnaturalness. A rain of hail and fire, mingled with blood; a great mountain, plunging, burning, into the sea; a star falling from Heaven, and, burning like a torch, poisoning many rivers and fountains; sun, moon, and stars, shorn of a third of their brightness—all consternating images of a disturbance of nature. Under the Fifth Trumpet, however, the most terrific contradictions of nature are exhibited: locusts that eat no green thing, but, on the contrary, sting men after the manner of scorpions; having hair like the hair of women, and teeth like lions’ teeth, etc.; these make their appearance as a mere prelude to the fiery horses of the Sixth Trumpet, which seem to drag their riders along with them, which bite with their snake-like tails as with mouths and vomit from their mouths fire, smoke and brimstone. But not until the Seventh Trumpet is the contradiction of nature consummated in the figures of the Dragon, the Beast, and the Woman who rides upon the Beast. With a master-touch at which we can but marvel, evil is here throughout delineated in extravagant contradictions, as unnaturalness.

Special.—We note only such items as appear to us to be more or less firmly established.—Darkenings of the Church, judgments of God.—The Trumpets of God—Divine judgments upon the unfaithful—as summonses of the faithful to battle, and as calls to awakening and repentance for all.—[ Revelation 8:1] The silence in Heaven a sign of the great sympathy of the heavenly Church in its foreview of the trials of the Church on earth.—[ Revelation 8:3-4] Completion of the prayers of believers by the intercession of Christ in Heaven.—[ Revelation 8:5] The fire of the health-bringing Spirit, falling from Heaven in order to the vitalizing of the Church, that the fire of judgment may not in the end fall upon her from Heaven.—[ Revelation 8:6] The series of Trumpets of judgment and repentance, a continual climactic succession, in accordance with the increasing development of mankind.—[ Revelation 8:7] Fanaticism, a mixture of frost and fire (icy coldness of heart and carnal heat of the imagination), mingled with blood.—[ Revelation 8:8] What can be understood, in a spiritual sense, by a burning mountain, falling into the sea?—[ Revelation 8:10-11] Since Satan has been styled a star, falling from Heaven, we may designate the falling star called Wormwood, apostasy, that has its origin in embitterment.—Intellectual or spiritual rivers, currents and fountains in humanity; their destinations and manifold empoisonment.—[ Revelation 8:12] Darkening of intellectual or spiritual lights of Christendom, and the sins which must have preceded such darkening.—[ Revelation 8:13] The Eagle of prophecy.—Warning cry of the Spirit of prophecy, concerning the whole earth.—As a woecry, it has reference to the earthly-minded.—The great dispensations of woe upon the earth are, incontrovertibly, great general temptations (no cry of woe was heard at the forth-going of the three sombre horsemen).

[ Revelation 9:1] The abyss, as the middle region between Hades and hell.—[ Revelation 9:2-11] The soul-sufferings of humanity, accompanying its development, through the medium of Christianity, in the sphere of all spiritually unsound life.—All spiritual manifestations which, by reason of great internal contradictions, assume a monstrous character, judge themselves. They are, however, the means of the spiritual ruin of the blinded individuals who yield themselves up to them. Examples of such contradiction may be given in abundance, and consist, especially, of pretensions to high spiritual life, conjoined with enslaving ordinances (Montanism); pretensions to high Christian sanctity, conjoined with pitiless severity (Novatianism); pretensions to purity from the influence of world and state, conjoined with a system of robbery (Donatism), etc.—[ Revelation 9:13-19] Manifestations of unnaturalness in the religious and moral world are armies of corruptive and destructive agencies slaying spiritually and, indirectly, also physically.—The horses of corruption and destruction run away with their riders.—[ Revelation 9:20-21.] Impenitence under the judgments of God, considered under the antithesis of bigotry and the service of sin (see chs 20,21). Bigotry and sensuality are prominent features of the most modern forms of corruption.

Starke: This author gives a singular interpretation of the silence in Heaven as a time immediately succeeding the great judgment and destruction of the Antichristian kingdom, viz. the thousand years (a half hour!). In commenting on the consecutive Trumpets, Starke cites, as usual, two adverse explanations, the one class given by those who regard the Trumpets as fulfilled, the other by those who look upon them as to come.

Christoph Paulus, Blicke in die Weissagung, etc. (see p73): Only the first judgment at the time of the first Trumpet, and the last at the time of the seventh Vial of Anger are accomplished by hail; they alone, therefore (because hail comes from above?), appear as a result of immediate Divine interference, as an immediate demonstration of Divine power. All the other judgments, from the second to the last, bear the stamp of historical occurrences (?).—Judgment of the fourth Trumpet. No remarkable occurrence on earth, no historical event distinguishes the time of the fourth Trumpet; nothing of importance happens, but a condition is gradually brought about in which the brightness of all Divine authority on earth is obscured; Church, laws and magistrates lose a considerable portion of their reputation and influence.

Literature.—Vetter, Die sieben Posannen, Breslau, 1860 (see p75).

[From M. Henry: Revelation 8:3-5. Observe, 1. All the saints are a praying people; 2. Times of danger should be praying times, and so should times of great expectation; 3. The prayers of the saints themselves stand in need of the incense and intercession of Christ to make them acceptable and effectual, and there is provision made by Christ to that purpose; 4. The prayers of the saints come up before God in a cloud of incense; no prayer thus recommended was ever denied audience and acceptance; 5. These prayers that were thus accepted in heaven produced great changes upon earth in return to them.

Revelation 9:7-12. Note, 1. When the gospel is coldly received and not permitted to have its proper effect upon heart and life, it is usually followed by dreadful judgments2. God gives warning to men of His judgments before He sends them; He sounds an alarm by the written word, by ministers, by men’s own consciences, and by the signs of the times; so that if a people be surprised, it is their own fault3. The anger of God against a people makes dreadful work with them; it embitters all their comforts, and makes even life itself bitter and burdensome4. God does not in this world stir up all His wrath, but sets bounds to the most terrible judgments5. Corruptions of doctrine and worship in the Church are themselves great judgments, and the usual causes and tokens of other judgments.— Revelation 9:2. The Devil carries on his designs by blinding the eyes of men, by extinguishing light and knowledge, and promoting ignorance and error; he first deceives men, and then destroys them; wretched souls follow him in the dark, or they durst not follow him.

Revelation 9:16. He Who is the Lord of hosts has vast armies at His command, to serve His own purposes.

[From Vaughan: Revelation 9:2. If men will not have heaven open to them, if they will break off the connection between earth and heaven, they must expect to have that between earth and hell opened.]

 


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These files are a derivative of an electronic edition available at BibleSupport.com. Public Domain.

Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Revelation 7:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/revelation-7.html. 1857-84.

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Monday, October 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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